Conor McGregor Is Now Being Courted With Russian Citizenship

Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

2015 was a banner year for Russian toughness. Aside from a bit of hand-wringing and light sanction-imposing from the west, the country’s aggressive military moves into Ukraine and Syria were met with minimal resistance. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, America’s absurdist answer to Russian-style authoritarianism, made headlines by complimenting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strength during the primary race. And not one but two of America’s former fighting champions, boxer Roy Jones Jr. and mixed martial artist Jeff Monson, became Russian citizens, leaving the compromised west behind for manlier pastures. So you’ll forgive Russia for feeling that it has once again solidified its spot as the center of the world’s two-fisted masculinity.

But now it’s 2016, and apparently waiting for famous fighters from the west to discover the benefits of Russian citizenship just doesn’t cut it anymore. Russian political leaders are now taking a page from their country’s proactive geopolitical strategy and reaching out to recruit their favorite fighters themselves, extolling the virtues of life as a Russian man for those man enough to make their living fighting other men.

During an interview on the Russian radio program Moscow Speaking earlier this week, Dmitry Nosov, a member of Russia’s lower parliamentary house, the State Duma, made a pitch to Conor McGregor urging the UFC featherweight champion and pound-for-pound brightest star in the MMA firmament to drop his beloved Ireland and become a Russian citizen. Nosov, a former judoka who won the bronze medal at the 2004 Olympic Games despite breaking his fucking arm during the third-place fight (hello, Russian roughness), made his play for McGregor with all the savvy of the professional politician and all the exploitative genius of the combat athlete, speaking to McGregor’s well-known respect for strength and power while squeezing the mixed martial right in the spot where everyone knows he’s most vulnerable: his love of money.

"First, it will help him save a few million dollars. Tax base in Russia is much lower, and it will save a lot of money,” Nosov said, softening McGregor up and working for leverage like a true judo player. “Plus, will fight for this country, strong, powerful, fair." Save money and surround yourself with your fellow warriors: What offer could be seductive to a man like Conor McGregor?

Nosov’s offer comes in response to a video making the rounds this week of McGregor on a Russian television show expressing admiration for Vladimir Putin. Pulling out his phone to show a picture of himself shaking hands with the Russian president, McGregor says, "Putin is a cool man, a martial artist also. Takes no shit. Russian people are strong people. They can spot a bullshitter from a mile away." Such words might cause alarm in many parts of the world, but in Putin’s Russian they were as good as a dog whistle.

And it’s no wonder Dmitry Nosov is trying to sell Conor McGregor on making the move to Russia. Nabbing the most famous fighter in the world would be a PR coup for the country and for Putin, who has made no secret of his admiration for pugilists, from Jones Jr. to favorite son Fedor Emelianenko to Russian female boxing champion (and possible Putin paramour) Natascha “The Sledgehammer” Ragosina, and who clearly believes their proximity to him is evidence of his and his country’s indomitability. Russia is a fighting land, a place where toughness is valued above all else, and Conor McGregor is currently the biggest fish in the sea. (True, McGregor lost his most recent fight to Nate Diaz, but Diaz is far too American and far too much the embodiment of western depravity, anti-authoritarianism, and bodily lassitude to merit the attention of the Russians and their testosterone fetish. Yet another reason to love him.)

The problem, of course, with Dosov’s plan, is that whereas Roy Jones Jr. and Jeff Monson were free to change their national affiliations without the fear of backlash from the people they were leaving behind, Conor McGregor leaving Ireland would cause an international incident. The country would explode. After all, McGregor is a national treasure in Ireland, a one-man revival, the rebirth of a long-dormant sense of fighting pride. Irishmen have voted for him in national elections and to appear on coins. They claim him as their own and name their children after him. Losing Conor McGregor to Russia would be national calamity. He’d never be able to set foot in the country again. Such a situation might even set off a diplomatic, even a military, situation, with Irish fans attacking Russia with their bare fists before allowing the country to claim Conor McGregor as one of their own. Which, I guess, would give Vladimir Putin just what he likes best: yet another opportunity to show the world how tough his country is.


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The Rise of Jeff Monson in Russia